By June 9, 2011

“The Heart and the Fist” Book Review

I’d say my peer group has a 60% overlap in beliefs, education, and upbringing. The fringe topics include gun ownership, equal rights, social outreach, religion, and economics. As I type that list out, I realize that’s just about every important topic ;). I guess what I am trying to say is that while I share some beliefs in some of these areas all of my friends, sometimes my friends disagree with each other to the point of discomfort. For example, I see eye-to-eye with Friend A about gun rights, but we disagree about social outreach. Friend B and I agree regarding social outreach, but they don’t believe in private gun ownership.

I get along well enough with Friend A and Friend B, but mixing them together would be a short path to a long evening.

I finished reading “The Heart and the Fist” by Eric Greitens last week. Eric Greitens’s life is one of service: from humanitarian efforts in Bosnia, Rwanda, Gaza, and Calcutta to becoming a Navy SEAL and combating al Qaeda across the globe. After leaving the military service, Greitens founded The Mission Continues, an non-profit organization designed to connect wounded service people with other community service efforts or those in need.

I was hoping for a book that helped me explain the concept of a humanitarian warrior to others. As Greitens points out early in his book, it is important to have ideals. It is important to help our fellows. It is important to receive an education (Greitens was a Rhodes and Truman scholar). It is also equally important to be able to physically defend those ideals and the people we are trying to help.

In a perfect scenario, I could hand Friend A and B copies of the book, and they might come closer to understanding each other’s viewpoints. They may not agree, but a little empathy goes a long way. Besides, I need them to sort this type of shit out before we move into Yurtville.

So I started reading The Heart and the Fist with the hope that I could join my two worlds together as Greitens joined his. However, I found that the author’s two parts do not necessarily make one whole.

Four phases of two lives

I think Greitens’s memoir does a very good job at breaking his existence into two “lives.” The first life of a student and humanitarian aid worker, the second life of a Navy SEAL. I’d venture to say the second life is further divided into his SEAL training, then into his time as an active-duty soldier, and then as a veteran helping other servicepeople.

I enjoyed reading about each life, but I found the first part of Greitens’s life to make for more interesting reading. It was fascinating to see what life experiences the author had that allowed him to finish SEAL training. If Greitens’s story can be imagined as a house, I found the planning and foundation to be more interesting than the structure itself. I really liked seeing the author’s transformation from a kid conditioned to believe that going to college was the be-all, end-all to a young man who spent half of his education abroad and came home to roll his eyes at his comfortable, over-idealized and under-informed classmates.

Eric’s time spent in SEAL training was of interest to me — not because of the actual training, but because of the strength and endurance necessary to complete the arduous training. His class graduated somewhere around 10% if I recall correctly, and some of those graduates failed to complete the final phases of training. It gave me a renewed respect for the men who complete the process. While there was some insight on what it takes to preserve hardship, this part of the book was the first obvious sign that there were two parts of Greitens’s life, and that a cohesive analysis of them as a whole was going to be lacking.

Overall, I found The Heart and the Fist to be an enjoyable read. My own hopes for the book surely biased how I felt when I was done reading the memoir, but others may feel differently.

I was hoping that this book would be an icebreaker for my friends who can’t reconcile the need to have a heart and a fist. Some of my friends leave their doors unlocked, believing that positive feelings and living will guard them from harm. Some of my friends not only lock their homes, but their hearts as well — believing that the only people who are worth helping are those who help themselves.

We need to be well-rounded human beings if we hope to maximize our emotional and physical survival. We need to be able to take care of ourselves before we can be expected to take care of others. Greitens referenced a quote from Pericles that rang true with me: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

I wish I could give this tome an all-around strong recommendation, but it’s lacking how to apply Eric’s life and principles to the “rest” of us. It is probably more applicable — and resonates more — with those who are serving or have served in the armed forces. I strongly recommend this book to friends and families of those in the armed service. I recommend this book to those who contribute materially or temporally to humanitarian and social endeavors. I also recommend it to those who study and train to become more prepared for physical adversity.

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1 Comment on "“The Heart and the Fist” Book Review"

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  1. Jenner says:

    I know the man only by his veterans programs. After working with Sen. Max Cleland’s office (Then Admin of the VA, under Pres Carter and a disabled veteran himself) on a few projects over the years I became aware of Vietnam veterans who were working in similar programs, though mostly as volunteers and in his office. I heard about Eric’s project a couple of years ago and thought it was great work. I know we’re talking about a book here and I’m only touching on one of the topics, but two movies, Coming Home (1978) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), while based on excellent books, were excellent visual demonstrations of the plight of the disabled veteran, and there are thousands of them. That The Mission Continues is there and that is only part of his great work speaks volumes about Eric. I’m very interested in getting the book.